Scancell Holdings (LSE:SCLP) has been seeing sudden and aggressive buying of its stock this morning, as the cancer treatment and vaccine small cap play continues a run that has seen it climb from 10.50p in mid-December to 21p today. However it must be said that much of that upside has come this morning.
Scancell is expanding its research work into cancer treatments, but the excitement is being generated by the research it is carrying out in the area of COVID vaccine development. It is working on a ‘second generation’ vaccine designed to take a more flexible approach to dealing with the fact that COVID-19 is now mutating along a number of different pathways.
The current vaccines on the market – e.g. from Pfizer – target one antigen and focus on the spike protein. The Scancell trial vaccine also goes after the end protein to allow for a broader immune response. This would mean that it could serve as the basis for not just current vaccines that need to tackle emerging variants in the UK, South Africa or Brazil, but could also be a tool in fighting variants that have yet to emerge.
Scancell has identified a lead candidate for South African virus
Scancell says that it has now identified a lead candidate that it is bringing forward to the testing phase against the South African variant which is now known to be widespread in Africa. It is also building a new vaccine designed to specifically target the South African variant.
Scancell’s Chief Medical Officer, Gillies O’Bryan-Tear, has recently said that the target date for the new vaccine to be rolled out is 2022 and that it might serve as a more general vaccine that could be used across multiple mutations of the virus.
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Scancell raised £30m in October from US specialist healthcare investor Redmile Group: Redmile subscribed for £12.1m of new equity at 13.1p as well as buying £17.99m of new loan notes that can be converted into shares. The financial backing is allowing Scancell to expand its activities. The company is hiring new medical personnel and is also collaborating with the Centre for Research on Global Virus Infections and the Biodiscovery Institute at the University of Nottingham. Cobra Biologics has said it can manufacture the plasma DNA required to make the incolutations against the viruses.
Other companies seeking to develop solutions to mutations
There are, of course, other strategies being worked on to deal with the problem of mutating viruses, including booster shots that can adapt the existing vaccines, so that those already vaccinated can be provided with additional protection.
Professor Andrew Pollard, a senior researcher involved in the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, has said that a booster which can handle the new variants should be ready for the autumn. GSK is known to be working with CureVac on a new vaccine that can handle the various emerging variants of the virus.
The main area of concern are those viruses with the E484K mutation, which has arisen independently in both the Brazil and South African variants of COVID. It is also known as an ‘escape mutation’ and can potentially threaten the effectiveness of the vaccines which have been approved so far.